There is another vitally important, positive interaction parents need to major in. It communicates a strong, affirming message of competence every child needs to hear. It comes as we give our children every opportunity to act responsibly in age appropriate ways. Responsibility is learned when the success of a venture is up to the child.
I remember working with a mom of a seventh grade boy. Over the summer he had to read three books and report on them when school came back into session in the fall. His mother rode him and fought with him to get the first two books read. This was the replaying of an old pattern where mom made sure her son completed his school work.
During the school year this was a nightly battle. I became involved with them to change this dynamic. In early August mom was getting ready for a several week battle to get the third book read. In coaching her I told her she would not fight with her son about that last book. He knew he had to read it and he knew there would be negative consequences from the school if he did not finish it. It was age appropriate to help him plan how he was going to get the book read. It was not age appropriate for mom to take responsibility to see that it got read. I told her that at his age he could take responsibility for completing the assignment. If he failed to complete it, he would suffer the consequences at school in September. The best outcome could only happen if it was solely up to him to succeed or fail.
Mom became visibly upset and said to me, “But what if he doesn’t get it read? They will think I am a bad mother.” This led to a prolonged discussion over the next few weeks as what constituted a good or bad mother. I asked her what kind of man she wanted her son to grow up to be. Being responsible was near the top of her list. I gently pointed out that as long as she took responsibility for her son, he never would. It is an axiom of life that only one person can be responsible for one thing at a time. If she always took responsibility, her son would never learn to carry responsibility. A good mom gives age appropriate guidance and help, but trusts their child to fulfill the responsibilities he or she has. And if the child fails and experiences a negative consequence, then the child learns a valuable lesson and is more likely to act responsibly next time. Wise parents are willing to let their children step out and attempt tasks where they may succeed or fail, within acceptable limits where the child cannot be permanently damaged. Letting the child try his or her wings is very affirming and sends the positive message: “I believe in you.” Esteem is built when our children attempt something challenging, where failure is an option, and succeed.
On the other hand, a parent, who always is responsible for every aspect of that child’s life, sends a very demeaning message: “I don’t believe in you. I have to do it for you. You are not capable or responsible enough to see it through yourself.” This is the kind of parent who shows up at school, when the child has gotten in trouble, and blames everyone but his child and tries to prevent any negative consequence from landing on the child. No wonder we are raising a generation of kids who never take responsibility for their actions. They are the victims of bad parents.
In this seventh grader’s case, his long-simmering anger toward his mother came from her, “You can’t carry responsibility – I have to do it for you”, demeaning messages. His mother backed off and began to let him swim or sink. In that he began to hear those I believe in you, I trust you can do it messages he so wanted to hear from her. His anger greatly diminished. Now he didn’t get that book completely read and took the consequence for his irresponsibility – and learned a valuable lesson. He made sure he finished on time the next book he had to read.
Pro-active, wise parents look for ways to send those I believe in you – you can do it messages. They create opportunities for their children to take on challenges and grow. They allow them to fail and affirm that they know the child will do better the next time. They model and teach the lesson that a mistaken choice doesn’t make the child a mistake. They teach them how to learn from their mistakes by helping them ask the question: “Now, I got an outcome I didn’t want. I ended up in a place I didn’t want to go. So what do I have to do next time to get a better outcome, not to go here again?” Such parents will raise children who can pick themselves up each time they fall and continue on.
© 2008 G Brenton Mock